The two afternoon matinees were "Force of Evil" and "The Spiritualist" (also known as "The Amazing Mister X"). The latter is an Eagle-Lion production that was photographed by John Alton. It was good to see a high quality print of the movie. Years ago, the same title was only available in poor prints as the copyright had expired and the orphaned film had fallen into the public domain. Given the skills of Alton, this "B" picture looked like an "A" quality film due to its cinematography.
Both of the matinees were well attended, but the admissions policy required theater patrons to purchase separate tickets for each individual film. This resulted in some customers exiting after one movie and not returning. In former festivals, tickets were also available on a double feature basis. Currently, even those holding festival passes were required to obtain tickets from the cashier for each film.
The single biggest draw of the day was "Call Northside 777" which was of great interest as much of the movie was filmed on location in Chicago and other locations in Illinois including the former Stateville Penitentiary. Based upon a true crime story about an actual miscarriage of justice, the movie related back to a time when Chicago had six major daily metropolitan newspapers.
"The Chicago Times" in the Henry Hathaway film was a Chicago daily that merged with the rival "Chicago Sun" becoming "The Chicago Sun-Times" in 1948 about a year or so after the location shooting for the movie wrapped. Today the Chicago has only two major dailies and both are struggling. A single weekday copy of the "Sun-Times" is now $2.00. One of those in attendance for the two late screenings was film critic Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune.
The worst was saved for last. "Roadhouse" is a ridiculous and forgettable melodramatic movie about a love quadrangle set in the north woods.
Unlike the other three films shown on Saturday, which all included some realistic location shooting in New York City, along the Pacific Ocean, and in the mean streets of Chicago, "Roadhouse" was filmed on a giant studio sound stage with only a handful of exteriors shot on the Fox Studios back lot. Reportedly three separate directors refused to accept the assignment before Darryl F. Zanuck persuaded Jean Negulesco to handle the turkey.
The ensemble cast included Ida Lupino, Richard Widmark, Cornel Wilde, and Celeste Holm. I have no doubt that the film turned a profit in general release due to its star power and marketing.
While the principal cast worked hard, they could not overcome the gaping holes in the script. How in the world does a rural community along the American Canadian border support a neon lit roadhouse that looks as if it was a casino that properly belonged in Reno, Nevada? Without a discernible tourist industry, the business was supported solely by locals who supposedly spent all of their disposable income bowling and night clubbing at "Jefty's Roadhouse."
I am going to try omit spoilers, but one can understand why Richard Widmark (who was raised in Illinois and attended Lake Forest College north of Chicago) had quarrels with Zanuck. Widmark argued to be given different roles rather than having to repeat his characterization of the giggling psychotic "Tommy Udo" of "Kiss of Death" ad nauseam. "Jefty" is really "Tommy Udo" in a different locale. Despite his backwoods upbringing, Jefty always dresses like an urban sophisticate in bespoke tailored suits and, even after his hunting and fishing trips, he is attired like an English lord set to hunt pheasant and engage in some rough shooting.
Given a good plot and fine actors, it is sometimes possible to suspend disbelief and accept outlandish occurrences that occur in a studio production and enjoy the film nonetheless. The audience laughed throughout "Roadhouse," not only due to the snappy dialogue, but the absolute silliness of the plot. Jefty is so smitten with a cigarette smoking lounge singer Lily (Lupino), a mediocre entertainer who he discovered on a trip to Chicago, that he offered her a generous $250.00 per week contract to depart from the Windy City to perform in the cocktail lounge of his bowling emporium where a goodly portion of the populace must be employed as manual pinsetters and customer service staff members.
The bowling business is so brisk that it produces as much as $2,600.00 per month in receipts while Pete Morgan, the manager (Cornel Wilde), is paid $600.00 per month plus a percentage of the profits. Do the arithmetic yourself. Having accommodated Lily in a spacious room at the "Antlers Hotel" the illogical script has the spendthrift roadhouse owner leave on a week long moose hunting expedition.
After bagging Bullwinkle Moose and two of his cousins off screen, Jefty also found time to secure a marriage license in the hinterlands. Meanwhile, in her employer's absence, the nicotine addicted songbird with an aversion to using ash trays has overcome her initial dislike for Jefty's right hand man, Pete, and fallen hard for the poorly paid manager, who nonetheless lives in a tidy and well furnished apartment above the bowling lanes. Pete brushes off the cashier of the roadhouse, Susie (Celeste Holm), to pursue Lily exclusively. The owner is outraged when the woman of his dreams rejected his marriage proposal that he failed to announce to her in advance of obtaining the license from a local game warden no doubt. He plots his revenge and so it goes.
"Roadhouse" ultimately fails because the incredible small town setting has amenities that are completely out of place and a plot that is absolutely ludicrous. The combined bowling alley and roadhouse are exceptionally large as are Jefty's residence and hunting cabin. The fictional village of Eldon also has its own passenger railroad depot, police department, courthouse, church, a large hotel and a YWCA, but no out of town tourists.
It occurred to me that "Roadhouse" resembled another flawed production from Poverty Row: "Whistle Stop" where the hicks in the sticks all congregate at an illegal casino owned by Tom Conway. The hot spot is sometimes frequented by a badly miscast George Raft and Ava Gardner. The crime caper in that film involved looting the cash receipts of an annual carnival. For a low rent movie, one can forgive such absurdities, but "Roadhouse" was a big budget production.
For a much more credible recreation center with bowling, check out Stuart Heisler's "Storm Warning." Truth be told, I do not think that Ben Hecht, himself, could have fixed the "Roadhouse" script. The late night audience for "Roadhouse" was the smallest of the day.
I apologize for my sarcastic negativity, but I have spent considerable time and numerous vacations in the north woods and the art directors for "Roadhouse" have a created a fantasy land that simply bears no resemblance to reality. Even in communities that cater to the summer tourist trade, the locals work hard for their seasonal earnings and do not have sufficient funds to waste on a nightly basis.
The motif of Jefty's place reminded me of a suburban Chicago restaurant "L. Woods" in Lincolnwood (get the pun in the name?), which has an almost identical knotty pine and field stone masonry decor for its bar and restaurant.
As a final aside, the "Roadhouse" plot included elements akin to the "Seinfeld" episode in which George Costanza pitches a television script in which a man who is unable to satisfy a judgment after a car collision is ordered by a judge to act as a butler until the debt to the injured motorist is repaid.
All kidding aside, I really liked "The Man I Loved" with Ida Lupino and Bruce Bennett and "The Devil Thumbs a Ride" with Lawrence Tierney. The cast and crew of "Roadhouse" all made many better movies that are well worth seeking out.